Well that’s just it. (laughs) I never took up the piano. It rather found me.
It began when I was about six or seven years old, feeling out-of-step with the world, a misfit, an old soul, looking for directions from elsewhere.
I read about time travel, the belief in other dimensions, the solar system… I would lecture to my stuffed animals about quantum physics and constellations, (as much as a seven year old could fathom such things.) All I wanted to do was to discover or manifest hidden worlds. I knew they existed. My mission was to figure out how to find them.
I transformed my bedroom closet into a make-shift Time Machine, adorned with my favorite zebra lamp and a tiny wooden chair. I sat in the darkness and felt strangely relieved and inspired.
I began making frequent visits to an elderly widow who lived next door. Her home was encrusted with bric-a-brac, old photos and dolls---porcelain-painted Siamese cats with jewels for eyes. In the basement was an ancient upright piano, covered entirely in beige and gold-flecked paint. It sat next to the washer and dryer, under buzzing florescent lights.
There was something atrocious, yet reverent about this thing. It kept calling me. I knew nothing about the instrument, but I kept venturing next door, poised on the golden bench for hours, letting thoughts and spectres rush through my fingertips, as it transported me far away. I didn’t know what I was doing-- but didn’t want to do anything else. This became my portal. It still is.
SC: What made you decide you wanted to pursue a life of creating music?
I always wanted to sing, that’s still my favorite thing to do, even over playing the piano. But I would say, that I am first and foremost a storyteller. In any medium. I have ventured off into theatre, books, film. The essence for me is the story. That is the pursuit. Excavating the story, conjuring the mood, transporting others.
SC: There's a distinct "noir" feel to your music. How has film influenced your work?
It was a watershed when I discovered the classic horror/film noir composers as a child. Bernard Herrmann’s scores to Alfred Hitchcock films, “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” Franz Waxman, Hans J. Salter, among others. It was pure magic to me, realizing that the MUSIC completely dictated the emotion of whatever it was that you were watching. It was utterly subliminal, primal.
I wanted to figure out how to conjure dark and enchanting imaginary worlds of my own.
Not to mention the dreamlike, mysterious, sensual look to those films. The dangerous romance, the unsettling camera angles, and surreal lighting. An ideal marriage of the elegant and the sinister. I just wanted to live in those worlds. They seemed perfect to me. They still do.
SC: What filmmaker do you dream of working with?
I’m not sure who I DREAM of working with… but ever since I got a surprise email from Guy Maddin telling me he’s a fan and owns all my CDs---I have envisioned a collaboration there. Our aesthetics are so well suited. I’d definitely love to do a music video with him--or a feature film. And of course Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Mark Romanek, Guillermo del Toro would be ideal to visualize my worlds. If I could travel back in time--Fritz Lang, F.W. Murnau, David Lean, and Alfred Hitchcock.
SC: You've become well known, and well regarded, since you've moved to
the Bay Area. Where did you live before that? Did you perform there?
I did the proverbial “running away to New York City” shortly after high school. I resided in Manhattan for a few years--living and working in Greenwich Village and Tribeca. Then, onto a former coffin factory (now warehouse) in Brooklyn with 18 windows--where I owned nothing but an old junk-grand piano and a mattress. That space was where it all began! I definitely found my “voice” there, and wrote a large body of songs. But I did very few shows. At the time, it was difficult to gig—no one had a vehicle, let alone any money, so it was nearly impossible to make anything happen.
SC: What prompted the move to San Francisco?
Just that. I definitely needed the buzz of a big city, being able to walk everywhere, be inspired-—but wanted to have a vehicle, a place to rehearse-- a more functional lifestyle as a performing musician. I always had a love affair with San Francisco’s gorgeous and grotesque Victorian architecture, foggy weather, and notorious history. It seemed like the perfect fit. I still love living there.
SC: Do you live in an old Victorian?
My building is one of the few original apartment buildings that existed in Victorian times. There are 12 units, a very ornate structure with a grand entranceway. My apartment is probably just how you would envision it: dark red and gold walls, curios, art, and strange treasures adorn nearly every inch of space. Books, apothecary bottles, pillows and lamps. It’s my little sanctuary.
SC: Do you compose most of your music there?
SC: When you're creating a song what's easier: writing the music or writing the lyrics?
Definitely the music… it’s visceral, it comes, you don’t even think about it. The musical ideas plant the seed for everything else. Lyrics involve more reasoning, processing and dissecting. Finding the pieces that fit the puzzle.
SC: Love and relationships come up rather frequently on the latest CD, but what other themes did you explore on this outing?
The theme of “The Bittersweet Constrain” is how we, of our own free will, put ourselves into cages-- so quickly and thoughtlessly imprison ourselves. Then, once getting in the cage, it's all about longing to get OUT-- the bittersweet constrain. We're trapped and held by our own desires-–but yearning to have freedom-—but remain in that familiar cage of complacency. Complacency is the ultimate trap. And how quickly we harbor in the familiar, the routine.
I wanted to utilize birdcages and animals in the graphic elements. Photographer Michael Garlington and I got some extraordinary shots.
On the cover of the lyrics booklet, you’ll see part of a cow’s eye (my own face reflected in it by genius artist Bill Domonkos). That acknowledges the tale of upon opening the gates of cattle awaiting slaughter, allowing them to escape, run free---the cattle will essentially just stand there, motionless, will not leave the pens--they know no other way to exist. Humans in essence do the same thing.
SC: Are you in love right now?
No. But I would say I am madly in love with freedom, romance, and the endless possibility. I am driven by Mystery. That intoxication that comes when you walk into a room and you know that anything could happen. That’s empowering.
SC: Tell us something about yourself that people may not know.
Ahhh, well---I am a proud left-hander, double-moon Cancer, have a ridiculous obsession with apples, dark chocolate, and tea, worked as a bartender for many years-—can still pour a mean cocktail!
SC: What are some of your favorite cocktails?
I adore gin and Campari. So, one of my favorite classic cocktails is a Negroni, which is gin, Campari and sweet vermouth. Delectable alchemy.
SC: What cities that you've played in are you eager to visit again?
Barcelona (Spain) was sheer magic. And certainly Portland, Oregon-—we always have such memorable times there. And I can’t wait to get back to New Orleans. I performed at Anne Rice’s legendary Halloween Ball in 2008, and twice in 2009. I can never get enough New Orleans.
SC: You are now collaborating and performing with the legendary David J (Bauhaus/Love & Rockets). That’s exciting news. How did that come about?
Well, David had heard about my music and attended a 2009 concert of mine at the Knitting Factory in Hollywood. We kept in touch and he asked me to play piano and backing vocals on his new EP --a collaboration with LA artist Shok.
David and I co-hosted the “Ghostly Equestrian Ball in Hollywood last Halloween. I definitely had one of those “full circle moments.” Here I was onstage with the man who not only wrote “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” but also played that legendary bass line, and we are singing a cover together of David Bowie’s “All the Young Dudes,” written for Mott the Hoople! Ahhhh, talk about my goth and glam rock fantasies coming true!
I’ve since reworked a solo piano intro for a dark classical cum goth club rendition of “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” which we debuted in San Francisco this summer. It’s gorgeous and fierce. I am hoping to record it with David as a single when I remix some of my tunes.
I’m currently shooting an epic music video with David now for “Tidal Wave of Blood,” the duet we sing on his upcoming EP- which also features Juliet Landau (Buffy the Vampire Slayer). It’s the first time I’ve done any real green screen work with elaborately constructed sets, so it’s been an intriguing endeavor.
SC: Does knowing that you have people like Anne Rice, David J, Clive Barker, Guy Maddin, Steven Severin, Jello Biafra, Lydia Lunch and countless others as fans ever go to your head?
It’s more a validation than anything. I’ve struggled for so long, and have had every clueless industry executive telling me that my work could never be successful--—“too sophisticated, too intelligent, too cinematic, too dark, too unique, can’t categorize it...blah blah.” The sheer fact I have supporters who are highly-regarded artists I admire simply proves that I was right all along. The suits were wrong. Thank God I knew enough NOT to listen to them.
That’s the greatest piece of advice I can offer. Never let anyone in the entertainment industry make you second-guess yourself. The struggle of being yourself in a world that is trying its hardest to turn you into “everybody else” -- that’s the hardest and most glorious battle of all.
SC: Do you believe in magic?
More often than not, magic is the only thing I do believe in.
SC: What would like for your last meal?
Do you know something I don’t?? (laughs)
All I would need would be a perfectly-brewed pot of green jasmine tea, and the darkest chocolate you could imagine. A few exotic raw nuts, chilled slices of Fuji apple. A beautiful pinot noir. And lastly, the perfect kiss. That would accompany me into the afterworld just fine.